Burger King's Whopper on Wikipedia

April 25, 2017

Rise of Digital Assistants

 

Over a decade ago, a digital assistant was a handheld device that functioned more like a calendar than a human personal assistant. Nowadays, digital assistants are programmed with artificial intelligence and a human-sounding voice. The most well-known digital assistants are Siri, Google, Cortana, and Alexa. Each is programmed with its own profile of commands and skills. Though these digital assistants are far from being able to have a full conversation, they are activated by voice or specific phrases.

 

Burger King Triggers Google Home

 

Burger King released a 15-second TV commercial to promote its famous Whopper sandwich.

The actor’s voice activates the Google Home digital assistant by asking, “OK Google, what is the Whopper Burger?” The device responds by reading line-by-line from the Whopper Wikipedia article.

 

Google was not complicit in the creation of the commercial. To mitigate potential consumer backlash, Google added the voice onto its audio blacklist, preventing it from activating the digital devices. Burger King immediately released three other versions of the commercial dubbed with different voices. Within a day of those commercials airing on national television, Google blocked them from triggering the Google Home device.  

 

Trolls Trash Whopper

 

 

Since “anyone can edit” Wikipedia, that is exactly what people did. The Whopper Wikipedia article was edited 138 times from the moment the commercial aired up to April 14, 2017, when Extended Confirmed Protection blocked further edits to the article.

 

Research confirmed Burger King Corporation representatives edited the Whopper Wikipedia article prior to the release of the commercial.

 

It is assumed Wikipedia user:Fernmachado123 is Fernando Machado, Burger King’s Senior Vice President Global Brand Management.

 

Those usernames are now blocked for an indefinite period of time for violating Terms of Use and content policies. Promotional content and editing a Wikipedia page for promotional reasons are just cause for blocking usernames.

 

Branding Brilliance and Flameout

 

Burger King’s branding team and creative agency David set a precedent for audio branding. The commentary and stories about the commercial still persist a whole week after it aired and then later blocked. Renegade marketing and public relations works well in the advertising industry. Burger King Corporation and Fernando Machado’s team may be celebrating this moment as a victory.

 

However, on Wikipedia, reputational repercussions can be permanently damaging. Wikipedia tracks IP addresses and every edit is logged in the Edit History. When a crisis event related to the Burger King Whopper occurs, the corporation may be locked out of engaging with Wikipedians to correct inaccuracies. Blocking usernames is just one way Wikipedia levels punitive damages. In addition, blocking IP addresses is another tactic Wikipedia can exercise to enforce its Terms of Use and policies.

 

While mainstream and social media may move on, Wikipedia does not forget. The Wikipedia articles of a company, its executives, and its products are high-value targets. Between fans and vandals, the Wikipedia article can change within minutes. Monitoring the Wikipedia is useful, but if the company and its representatives are blocked, it leaves the brand vulnerable to inaccurate accounts of the company. Moreover, if other events significant to the company’s success are missing from the story, the public will perceive it as unvarnished truth. Wikipedia content persists and its high-trust ranking on Google make it a top search engine result. Renegade promotion and visibility are celebrated when the campaign is successful, but those campaigns can have permanent negative implications on their brand’s story.

 

Update: On April 17, 2017, a group of twelve Wikipedians, led by (user:Smallbones) penned an open letter suggesting Burger King Corporation and its parent holding company apologize for both abusing Wikipedia for promotional purposes and violating Wikipedia’s Terms of Use and content policies.

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